Michael Joseph Crescenz
Corporal, United States Army
Name: MICHAEL JOSEPH CRESCENZ
Date of Birth: 1/14/1949
Date of Casualty: 11/20/1968
Home of Record: PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA
Branch of Service: ARMY
Casualty Country: SOUTH VIETNAM
Casualty Province: QUANG NAM
Michael J. Crescenz
Rank and Organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Company A, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division.
Place and date: Hiep Duc Valley area, Republic of Vietnam, 20 November 1968.
Entered service at: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Born: 14 January 1949, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The President of the United States in the name of the Congress of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to
MICHAEL JOSEPH CRESCENZ
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
Corporal Crescenz distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as a rifleman with Company A.
In the morning his unit engaged a large, well-entrenched force of the North Vietnamese Army whose initial burst of fire pinned down the lead squad and killed the 2 point men, halting the advance of Company A. Immediately, Corporal Crescenz left the relative safety of his own position, seized a nearby machine gun and, with complete disregard for his safety, charged 100 meters up a slope toward the enemy's bunkers which he effectively silenced, killing the 2 occupants of each. Undaunted by the withering machine gun fire around him, Corporal Crescenz courageously moved forward toward a third bunker which he also succeeded in silencing, killing 2 more of the enemy and momentarily clearing the route of advance for his comrades.
Suddenly, intense machine gun fire erupted from an unseen, camouflaged bunker. Realizing the danger to his fellow soldiers, Corporal Crescenz disregarded the barrage of hostile fire directed at him and daringly advanced toward the position. Assaulting with his machine gun, Corporal Crescenz was within 5 meters of the bunker when he was mortally wounded by the fire from the enemy machine gun.
As a direct result of his heroic actions, his
company was able to maneuver freely with minimal danger and to complete
its mission, defeating the enemy. Corporal Crescenz's bravery and extraordinary
heroism at the cost of his life are in the highest traditions of the military
service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
For forty years, they have paid their respects to a brother killed in combat and laid to rest in Holy Splecher Cemetery in Cheltenham.
But Army Corporal Michael Crescenz, the only Philadelphian awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War, will be honored elsewhere.
"I think we finally decided that he should be with his brothers in arms," brother Joe Crescenz said.
So in the spring, Michael Crescenz's casket will be escorted to Virginia to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a place of honor for a 19-year-old graduate of Cardinal Dougherty High School, who rushed enemy machine gun nests to save his men and mission and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
"His whole company was saved because of the actions of him," Vietnam Veteran Charlie Becker said.
Crescenz is remembered every day by students passing by the place of honor reserved for him and fellow Dougherty graduates: Cardinal John Foley and fallen Philadelphia Police Officer Chuck Cassidy.
"His memory lives on here, will not be a loss for Philadelphia. It will be heightened and allow people to recall the sacrifice he made in Vietnam," Cardinal Dougherty High School's Rev. Carl Janicki said.
The Medal of Honor is awarded only rarely but Michael Crescenz's family knows what a rare young man he was.
The family of Mike Crescenz is planning to
rebury him on May 12, 2008, with full military honors and on that warm
spring day, the final resting place of thousands of American war heroes
will open it gates to one more.
29 April 2008:
A hero's final journey to rest among heroes
Michael Joseph Crescenz was the only Philadelphian from the Vietnam War to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
He was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968, but his parents didn't take advantage of the opportunity to have him buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
They preferred to have him closer to their West Oak Lane home so that they could visit his grave often. So they buried him in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, in Cheltenham Township.
Four decades later, Crescenz's parents now also are gone, and his brothers have decided to move his body to Arlington. That process is to begin with the exhumation of the body on Friday.
Crescenz was 19 when his unit engaged a force of the North Vietnamese army in the Hiep Duc Valley area. During an intense battle, Crescenz seized a machine gun and wiped out three enemy bunkers. He was moving in on a fourth when machine-gun fire killed him.
His actions momentarily enabled his comrades to advance. As a result of his heroism, his company went on to defeat the enemy in that battle.
One man particularly affected was William H. Stafford, of East Hampton, New York, a medic who went to the front of the line to help a point man.
"The fire was intense and when Michael moved up to silence another bunker, he stepped in front of me and was killed" by automatic fire, Stafford recalled in a statement he posted on the Web site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
"For over 25 years I thought about calling or writing Michael's family, but I could not face the fact that I was living because of him.
"I did not realize that Michael got the Medal of Honor, and it gives me great satisfaction that he was honored by our country. I also honor him every day in my mind and prayers."
Time passed. Crescenz's father, Charles Jr., died around 1988, and his mother, Mary, passed away 16 years ago. They were buried at the Veterans Cemetery in Cape May Courthouse.
And Michael Crescenz continued to lay in repose in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. The family visited often.
"We decorated it on holidays, cleaned the stone and put new flags on it," said his brother Joseph Crescenz, who works as the grounds superintendent for the Downingtown School District, in Chester County.
In August 2006, Joe Crescenz had a going-away party for a daughter, and all five brothers were there.
"I asked them about moving Michael's body down to Arlington. I got answers like, 'That would be nice,' and 'Maybe sometime.' I took it as a yes."
So Joe went to the cemetery and asked about exhuming Michael's body.
"The poor secretary was slightly aghast," Joe said. "She said, 'Why disturb the remains of your brother? He's been at rest all these years.'
"I said, 'Ma'am, thanks for saying that, but I don't need a lecture.' "
Joseph Crescenz said that Arlington also expressed some initial reluctance. "I went to Congressman Joseph Pitts, and within 48 hours had a reply that they would accept my brother, provided all proper records were submitted," he said.
An exhuming ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. Friday. The Patriot Guard Motorcycle Club will escort the hearse to the Terry Funeral Home, on Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia, where the body will be placed in a new casket courtesy of the funeral home.
On May 12, a large contingent of cycles, including those from various police departments, will escort Michael's body to Arlington for a 1 p.m. burial with full military honors.
Crescenz was born Jan. 14, 1949. He graduated in 1966 from Cardinal Dougherty High School, where he was considered a dedicated academic. He was a varsity baseball star.
He went to Vietnam in September 1968, the same month that his older brother Charles was discharged from active duty.
The Distinguished Graduate Awards, presented by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, described his final day:
"Crescenz was serving as a rifleman in the Hiep Duc Valley area of the Republic of Vietnam. That morning his unit engaged a large force of the North Vietnamese Army whose initial burst of fire pinned down the lead squad and killed the two point men.
"His company in danger, Crescenz immediately abandoned the safety of his own location and ran through heavy gunfire to charge three bunkers.
"Crescenz was only five meters from a fourth
bunker when he was shot and killed."
2 May 2008:
The Crescenz brothers gather at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetary in Cheltenham Township to give their brother Michael a final farewell before they move his casket to Virginia.
"It's a happy day because we're going to be moving him to where he belongs," Charles Crescenz, Michael's brother, said.
Forty years ago Michael was killed in the Vietnam War.
He was 19.
"He was buried here because my parents at the time when they were alive we didn't live that far from here and they wanted him close to home. My brother Joe started the ball rolling he felt Mike should be in Arlington," Crescenz said.
Arlington National Cemetery will soon be Michael's resting place.
"A lot of combat veterans from WWII and Korea who I've worked with and Vietnam vets have all said the same thing to me -- why is that boy not down in Arlington," Joseph Crescenz, Micael's brother, said.
But saying goodbye again is as tough as it was 40 years ago.
"It's, you know, being a 12-year-old kid and seeing one of your brothers die in battle," Joseph Crescenz said.
"He was a great guy. Super guy," Peter Crescenz, Michael's brother, said.
"There's always a blank there because he's not around," Charles Crescenz said.
Bill Stafford has lived with that void, too. He served in Michael's unit and said Michael saved his life.
"I got to have a family and kids thanks to him," Bill Stafford, a Vietnam veteran, said.
The nation also recognized his sacrifice.
President Richard Nixon gave the family a congressional medal of honor. Michael is the only Philadelphian from the Vietnam War to ever receive one.
And now another honor, as five brothers give the one they have had to live without a final farewell.
"He would want to be there with his comrades," Stephen Crescenz, Michael's brother, said. "He's a hero and at this time we need our heroes to be together rather than apart."
Michael will be taken to Arlington on May 12, 2008 and buried with full military honors.
3 May 2008:
Returning to his band of brothers
For nearly 40 years, Corporal Michael Crescenz had lain beside a quiet road in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery just over the border from Philadelphia.
Yesterday, beneath bright sunshine, and escorted by a phalanx of police officers and Vietnam veterans riding motorcycles, Crescenz began a journey that will take him to a new resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.
"We've had him to ourselves long enough," said Crescenz's brother Joe. "It's just time that Michael goes home to be with his comrades in arms from all the various wars."
Crescenz, who was 19 when he was killed in combat on November 20, 1968, was the only Philadelphia resident to receive the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry during the Vietnam War.
The notion of disinterring the Cardinal Dougherty High School graduate from his grave in Cheltenham Township and moving him to Arlington, Va., across the Potomac River from Washington, had long been talked about in the Crescenz family.
"World War II veterans, Korea vets, Vietnam vets - a lot of them said to us, 'Why is that boy not down in Arlington? That boy's a hero,' " the brother said.
But as long as his parents were living in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, that was out of the question.
"Mom and Dad, they wanted him close to home," said Joe Crescenz, who lives in Downingtown.
In 2006, with both parents long dead and buried at a veterans cemetery in Cape May Court House, New Jersey, Joe Crescenz and his four remaining brothers talked about it again.
It was painful to think of digging Michael up.
That was done Thursday. The body was taken overnight to a funeral home in Downingtown and returned to the grave site yesterday afternoon for what amounted to a second funeral.
The family gathered in black under a canopy. The body, in a new casket draped with the Stars and Stripes, was lifted by six pallbearers from a black Cadillac hearse and placed on steel supports over the grave.
An Air Force color guard stood at attention, as did a dozen white-helmeted members of the Philadelphia Highway Patrol and several dozen veteran motorcyclists wearing leather vests and arm bands that read "Patriot Guard Riders."
Among others who attended was Bill Stafford, 59, of East Hampton, New York, a member of Michael Crescenz's platoon in Alpha Company of the 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division.
Stafford, who wore a blue suit with a Purple Heart pin on the lapel, said Crescenz had saved his life.
Their unit had been on patrol in the Hiep Duc Valley area of what was then South Vietnam when they were attacked by North Vietnamese soldiers hidden in machine-gun bunkers.
The two men walking at the point of the American column were shot dead, Stafford recalled. So were a Lieutenant and a Sergeant.
"We walked right into an ambush," Stafford said. "Truthfully, I was so scared. The adrenaline was going. It all happened in just seconds."
Crescenz got up from the ground, grabbed an M-60 machine gun, and charged 100 meters up a slope toward the dug-in North Vietnamese positions.
His Medal of Honor citation, presented to his family at the White House by President Richard M. Nixon, said he knocked out one, then two, then three machine guns, clearing a momentary path for his platoon to move forward.
He was then cut down by a fourth enemy machine gun, which he could not get to.
Stafford said he did not know for two years afterward that Crescenz had been awarded the nation's highest military honor.
He said he had come to the ceremony yesterday because "it gives me a chance to honor Michael, which I didn't have before."
Some who attended had known only that Crescenz was an honored veteran. Many were struck by the timing of the event, amid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Frank Tacey of Northeast Philadelphia, a leader of the motorcycle group, said he had attended several funerals to honor the latest generation of soldiers killed in combat.
"It's just a matter of respect," he said of attending yesterday.
He noted that veterans generally are treated with more respect then during the Vietnam War.
"I'm sure, when Michael was buried in 1968, there weren't as many people at the cemetery," he said. "The sentiment in 1968 wasn't very good."
After the brief service, the casket was lifted and returned to the hearse.
The riders got aboard their bikes and led the hearse onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a 40-mile drive to Downingtown, where it will remain at a funeral home until May 12.
On that date, the riders will remount for the final leg of the journey to Arlington, 130 miles to the southwest.
There, with all the pomp and ceremony that the U.S. military can muster, Mike Crescenz will be buried again.
"It's been a long time coming," his brother Joe said.
Back Channels: Long-awaited honor for vet
A Phila. son killed in Vietnam will be reburied at Arlington.
By Kevin Ferris, Inquirer Columnist
9 May 2008
Last Friday in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, people kept referring to "Michael's day."
As in Michael J. Crescenz, a 19-year-old from the West Oak Lane neighborhood and St. Athanasius parish who was killed in action in Vietnam, and whose valor earned him the Medal of Honor.
There was a brief ceremony Friday afternoon at his grave site as the family prepared to have him moved to Arlington National Cemetery.
A priest and students from his alma mater, Cardinal Dougherty High School, paid tribute. As did the Vietnam Veterans of Americal, Chapter 590, who set up an honor guard and "field cross" - M16 in the ground, bayonet first, helmet on top, boots in front and dog tags hanging from the trigger guard.
The Patriot Guard Riders organized a flag perimeter and the police escort to a Downingtown funeral home, where Michael's body awaits transfer to Arlington. That final trip to Virginia, courtesy of the Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club and several police departments, happens Monday. The public is invited to the 1 p.m. burial.
So, yes, it was truly Michael's day, but sharing it were his five brothers and vets such as Bill Stafford, who is alive today because of Michael.
Charlie, a Marine, was the first of the Crescenz brothers to serve during Vietnam. When he came home, Michael went.
Joe Crescenz was 12 when Michael left for the Army. Joe remembers a lot of guys from the neighborhood going into the service then. Guys he and his friends always looked up to. Guys who played stickball in the streets and took the younger kids bowling.
But when those guys started coming home, Joe saw a change.
"We used to look at those guys and we thought they were invincible," Crescenz says. "Then we saw them coming back from the war . . . and they had this blank stare about them."
Joe answered the door when the Army came to the family's Thouron Avenue home in late 1968. It was a Saturday morning, maybe 7:30. Dad was upstairs shaving, Mom in the kitchen making breakfast. The youngest brothers, Steve and Chris, were still in bed.
Before the officer in dress greens came in, Joe's father yelled downstairs, "Who's knocking at this time of the morning?"
"Dad, it's a man from the Army," Joe hollered back.
At that moment, Joe heard frying pans hit the kitchen floor.
"That sticks with you," Joe says, adding that his mother was never the same after that day.
Two years later, Charlie and Mary Ann Crescenz were in the White House, accepting a posthumous Medal of Honor for their son Michael from President Richard Nixon.
When his platoon was ambushed on Nov. 20, 1968, in Vietnam's Hiep Duc Valley, Michael grabbed an M-60 and single-handedly charged three enemy machine-gun positions, killing the crews.
"He definitely stood up that day and broke the logjam we were in," says Stafford, a medic with Michael's platoon in the 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. "I was able to get to one wounded guy because of Michael."
While Michael drew the enemy's fire, Stafford advanced to help a wounded soldier who couldn't pull himself to safety. As Stafford tended to the man's injuries, Michael put himself between the medic and the enemy. That's when Michael was killed.
"Things happen so quickly in a war, and you wonder why certain things happen to some but not others," Stafford says. "I figured out after many years that it just wasn't my time.
"But Michael's day was that day - to help his comrades - and that was it."
After his two tours in Vietnam, Stafford often thought about Michael, about what had happened, but he never discussed it. He even considered reaching out to the Crescenz family, but didn't.
"Twice I was going to go to Philly to meet his parents but I couldn't do it," Stafford says.
He only learned about Michael's Medal of Honor six years ago. Then last year he posted a thank-you on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial's online "wall." One of the Crescenz brothers contacted him, and Stafford heard about the Arlington plans.
Stafford was one of the pallbearers Friday at Holy Sepulchre. And though it won't be easy, he'll be at Arlington on Monday.
"I'm sure it'll be emotional but it'll be good emotion," he says. "It shows that people care, and whatever your political persuasion, you still have to honor the person."
Honor him they will. And though Joe Crescenz is frustrated about the two years it took to move his brother, the timing was perfect. Any sooner and Stafford might not have been involved.
And Friday was the feast day of the family's old parish saint, Athanasius, a defender of the faith of whom it has been said, "His courage was of the sort that never falters."
Truly Michael's day.
Posted: 6 March 2008 Updated: 29 Apri 2008 Updated: 2 May 2008 Updated: 3 May 2008 Updated: 14 May 2008 Updated: 22 June 2008
Photos Courtesy of Holly, June 2008